John Paul Jones: rum rethought

by Great British Chefs 24 October 2022

Rum has long been considered a cheap spirit, best consumed alongside a mixer but JPJ have set out to prove that it can be an exceptional and complex drink in its own right. We find out more about these trailblazing rum producers.

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It’s fair to say that rum has historically had a bit of an image problem. More commonly associated with piracy and sickly-sweet mixers than quality and sophistication, recent years have started to see people recognise the potential of rum in its own right, and that’s largely thanks to a new generation of rum brands making it their mission to change people’s perceptions. Co-founders of John Paul Jones (JPJ) Ollie Blackett, Finnian Gill, and Jack Cuddigan felt that rums were too often pumped full of artificial flavourings and spices, which dominated the flavour of the spirit, and so set out to create a complex yet carefully balanced, premium rum which could rival the likes of whisky as a sipping drink. With their signature Lowland Rum having already proved a hit amongst rum aficionados, they are now turning their attention to white rum.

It all began for the three young founders when they were made redundant at the start of the pandemic. All rum enthusiasts who shared the feeling that there was space to create something of a far higher quality than the flavoured rums they were used to, they made the decision to join forces and move into the world of alcohol. By way of inspiration, they looked to Scottish naval commander John Paul Jones, whose story one of the founders was particularly familiar with. Having been brought up on the same estate where John Paul Jones himself was born almost three-hundred years earlier, Ollie knew the tales of the legendary sea captain all too well, and soon Finnian and Jack were equally enthralled.

A pioneer of his time, John Paul Jones joined the British navy at the age of just thirteen and left after just four years, disgusted by the human trafficking he’d been witness to. After relocating to America to join the newly founded continental navy and fight in the revolution, he fast rose the ranks to become a commander, becoming acquaintances with Benjamin Franklin and an infamous enemy of the British, leading a number of attacks on merchant ships. Jones died at the age of forty-five and was buried and preserved in a lead casket, filled with alcohol believed by many to be rum…

The legendary naval captain isn’t simply JPJ’s namesake though, their rum also captures his adventurous spirit, daring to go where others haven’t by pioneering a new direction. The contents of each bottle may begin its life in the Caribbean, where John Paul Jones himself made many voyages, but it’s here on British soil where JPJ’s rum truly comes into its own. Barrel-aged in charred American oak and steeped in a blend of fresh ingredients and spices including ginger and black peppercorns, JPJ’s Lowland Rum is bottled at 40%ABV and has a complex flavour profile with notes of vanilla and pepper, and a light, smoky finish; but it’s the distinct salinity of the rum that really makes it stand out from the crowd.

This salinity is a result of the use of one of JPJ’s signature ingredients in the production process – seaweed. After the Lowland Rum has been aged, every batch is steeped in Scottish spiral wrack seaweed, which has been handpicked from a beach, moments away from where John Paul Jones grew up. The saltiness that this gives the spirit, combined with a savoury balance of ginger and spices, leads to a rum that isn’t just complex but also refreshing, meaning that it can be sipped like a fine whisky as well as being used in cocktails.

JPJ released the first batch of their unique Lowland Rum in 2021 and it was quickly met with acclaim, with alcohol critics praising the signature expression for its sophisticated flavour profile, and confirming that the boys had successfully created a rum best drunk neat. Following the success of their first release, they decided to shift their attention towards creating a white rum with the same complexity of flavour as the Lowland but lighter in character, and in 2022 JPJ released their second expression Ranger.

Bottled at 37.5% ABV, Ranger is also steeped in seaweed to achieve the touch of salinity that JPJ have become known for, but is also flavoured with slices of lime and apple to give it a lighter, more citrussy profile. Therefore, whilst their Lowland Rum is perhaps closer in feel to a whisky or brandy, Ranger is likely to appeal more to gin and vodka drinkers. That’s not to say that JPJ’s second expression is any less premium in feel than its first though; just as much care and attention has been paid to the ingredients used and the production process as ever, to ensure that Ranger is anything but a traditional white rum.

Following in the footsteps of their trailblazing namesake, JPJ are taking the rum world by storm with their bold approach and unique inspiration. They set out to change people’s perceptions of this under-appreciated spirit, and with two premium expressions now to their name and brilliant reviews to boot, they’re well on their way in very own rum-filled voyage.